Deborah was a wife, judge, and national leader. What she accomplished over 3000 years ago for the nation of Israel is a helpful case study in applied leadership. Her story, found in Judges 4-5, can benefit every person of influence in today’s workplace.
Deborah’s public life reveals the following four characteristics of an effective leader.
Deborah led when times were difficult.
Deborah rose to leadership at a dark time in Israel’s history. Israel was in decline. It had fallen away from God, and was in need of a deliverer.
Judges 4:1-3 declares, “The Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord … they cried to the Lord for help.” Deborah says in Judges 5:7, “Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel.”
Deborah arose when Israel needed new leadership to stop its fall. She did what great leaders do and that is to grow strong and step forward when times are difficult.
Deborah spoke with authority.
Leaders are subject matter experts within their sphere of influence. They add value, bring solutions, and speak with authority.
While you may not be a national leader like Deborah, you can learn to speak with authority within your own career specialty. Establish credibility by excelling at your job and helping others do the same with theirs. Earning the respect of your co-workers is the first step toward becoming their leader.
Deborah’s followers affirmed her leadership.
Leaders are magnets, not bulldozers, and Deborah was a magnet.
Judges 4:5 says, “She held court under the Palm of Deborah … and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided.” Deborah made good use of all the gifts and opportunities God sent her way.
There is no hint in the Judges 4-5 passage of Deborah being a self-promoter. She magnified God and served his people. Deborah’s followers were better off for having spent time with her. People are attracted to the Deborahs of the world.
Deborah didn’t have to fight her way up the organizational ladder. She was summoned by God and affirmed by her followers.
Deborah led by example.
Deborah, Israel’s leader, called Barak, Israel’s military commander, and instructed him to attack the army of Jabin, the king of Canaan who was oppressing Israel. Barak agreed to go and fight Jabin’s army, but with one condition.
Judges 4:8 declares, “Barak said to her, ‘If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.’” She replies in Judges 4:9, “Very well,’ Deborah said, ‘I will go with you.”’
Deborah led by example. She was not a warrior or battle commander and could have easily said she would be of better use by remaining behind, but she did not do that. She faced reality and exposed herself to the full consequences of her decision.
Under Deborah’s leadership, Israel’s enemy was defeated, the oppression was lifted, and Israel returned to the God of Abraham. Her story concludes in Judges 5:31 with these final words, “Then the land had peace forty years.”